Ever heard the old expression ‘Put your money where your mouth is’? Apparently—according to Sotheby’s auction house—this does not refer to forty-ouncers of King Cobra.
Wine writers tend to talk in some pretty tight aphorisms too:
‘Wine should be accessible to people as an everyday beverage,’ ‘Wine should not be intimidating to ordinary folks,’ and ‘Expensive wine is not necessarily better than inexpensive wine…’
Yet in our hearts, our minds—in our very swill-sopped souls—we all know what a load of crap that is.
Let me put it another way. Nobody likes to be laughed at, right? It’s human nature. So consider this:
- Redneck jokes are funny. Hereditary fortune jokes are not.
- Guzzling Colt 45 on a ghetto porch step is funny. Sipping 2005 Domaine Leroy Chambertin in a Bloomfield Hills dining room is not.
- Getting shitfaced on green beer on St. Patrick’s Day is funny. Getting slightly tipsy on Patricia Green Pinot Noir on Christmas Eve is not.
- At a restaurant, a beer steward is funny. A wine steward is not.
I could go on, but let me change tack. When was the last time you heard of anyone spending twenty thousand dollars installing a beer cellar? Why do you suppose there’s a Hospice de Beaune, a Hospice du Rhône, but no Hospice du Milwaukee? The number one beverage during the Revolutionary War was ale, and yet Jefferson is known for what kind of collection?
If I was to break with journalistic tradition and personal precedent and tell the truth, I’d have to say something that we all secretly understand:
Wine is for rich people.
This is not a bad thing—America likes rich people. Michael Moore makes movies about hating them for the sole purpose of becoming one. What percentage of the American workforce seriously believes they’re overpaid? And who can revile Bernie Madoff without harboring a private little ‘Wow! You certainly ‘made off’, dude!!’?
Take you, for example. Do you fantasize about owning a Lamborghini or a K Car? A Ducati or a moped? Do you show off your Mont Blanc or your Bic? Your Rolex or your Timex?
Stop feigning humility already.
And don’t get me wrong—wine writers are among the worst offenders. We pretend to be proletariat non-snobs, but of course, if we really wanted wine to become the sort of plebian plonk that the average wanker drinks in Europe, we’d also have to admit that Workaday Willie in Waukesha, Wisconsin couldn’t care less about all the esoteric enological knowledge we’ve spend years absorbing and millions of words expounding upon.
You know who likes that kind of stuff? Rich people, that’s who. Being able to rattle off the six allowable red wine grapes of Bordeaux or the ten Crus of Beaujolais does Willie scant good during Happy Hour, and may in fact get him beat up. But for rich people at the tony country club or some Ivy League benefit dinner, this shit is golden. Not only does it allow a rich person to feel even more swank and superior, it actually allows him or her to make informed decisions as they drop tens of thousands of dollars at wine auctions.
Which brings us around, full-circle, to Sotheby’s.
In 2011, Sotheby’s wine auctions brought in $85.5 million dollars, the second highest total in the company’s forty-one years of hooch hawkery.
Said Serena Sutcliffe MW (Mistress of Wine) and Worldwide Head of Wine at Sotheby’s: “This is a great worldwide result, and for London sales, the highest total ever achieved since the start of the department in 1970. We had some tremendous single owner collections in London and Hong Kong and we continue to find remarkable collections with perfect provenance.”
If somebody has the wherewithal to drop me a quick email and explain what ‘perfect provenance’ is, I’d appreciate it; it might help me find placement for the collection of empty 211 Steel Reserve cans in the trunk of my K Car.
Meanwhile, among the ‘remarkable collections’ auctioned off in Hong Kong was the Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection, fetching $5.6 million—which should buy an awful lot of cat chow. A two-day April sale of The Ultimate Cellar brought in more than $12 million, while a single bottle (albeit a big one) of Château Cheval Blanc 1995 sold for $45 k. The lucky bidder was an unnamed private collector from South America, who will presumably cellar the wine in the vicinity of the dead bodies that I guarantee he’s got stashed down there.
Incidentally, beside the 13 Sotheby auctions held in London in 2011, and the six in Hong Kong, there were also four held in New York. Repeated and harassing phone calls to Ms. Sutcliffe went unanswered, but private research has revealed that Sotheby auctioneers pretty much ignored the site-potential of Waukesha.
Sutcliffe may or may not be a rich person, but she certainly understands the ultimate truth behind the ultimate beverage or else she wouldn’t keep bragging about the figures she gives above. Somebody somewhere is keeping precise tabs on sales of Piggly Wiggly shelf stuffers, but not our friends at Sotheby. They don’t have to: They’re rich people.
If, in the end, there’s any consolation for us poor schmucks trying to schlepp our way through our daily schtick, it requires that we keep in mind another timeworn adage:
The rich may be different, but they’re still drunks.
P.S.: Two Buck Chuck is funny. Two Thousand Buck Château d’Yquem is not.